It's never an easy thing, to pick an "ultimate winner" of any awards show. The 2016 GRAMMYs were full of dynamic performances from a slew of musicians new and legendary, a three-hour fiesta of tributes and talent. Did you even see Lady Gaga's ode to David Bowie?
But there was one all-star, one man who not only delighted with his skill, but educated with his message, and who effected millions despite losing out on the top prize. And that man is Kendrick Lamar.
Lamar was nominated for 11 GRAMMYs this year, and won five of those, including the first of the night, Best Music Video for his "Bad Blood" collaboration with (eventual Album of the Year recipient) Taylor Swift. He also took home the entire rap category: Best Rap Performance, Best Rap/Sung Collaboration, Best Rap Song and Best Rap Album. The latter is especially noteworthy—Lamar lost the category two years ago following the release of his fantastic good kid, m.A.A.d city to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. It seemed like he finally received what he so clearly deserved.
And then the highlight of the entire GRAMMYs telecast, of course, was his performance. Lamar entered the stage in a prison uniform, handcuffs around his wrists, and launched into "The Blacker the Berry"; a careful eye would notice he was wearing black eye makeup, a powerful symbol of abuse and the failings of the prison industrial complex, one directly reflective of the racist world we still reside in. He incorporated the single "Alright," an optimistic and necessary exhalation in such an intense set. The performance was so moving, it inspired Adele to end her sensitive set with a shout-out to the rapper.
Kendrick's performance is only a few hours old, but is already being heralded as a "statement" set, one that accomplished what music at its most important and influential can accomplish—it was meaningful; it resonated; it made people think. While many of the performers on Monday night sought to give it their all, Kendrick sought to give it a people's all.
Standing as a silhouette under an illuminated outline of the country of Africa while the word "Compton" shone above him will remain as powerful an image as Beyoncé's flag of feminism at the 2014 Video Music Awards. It was more than an awards show booking; it was a call for revolution. It didn't matter who won Album of the Year after that. No matter what, Kendrick and his supporters were going to be alright.